Tetractys Spread


The Tetractys spread makes use of this most sacred symbol of the Pythagoreans, and thus it is the most suitable spread to use with the Pythagorean Tarot. One of Pythagoras' aphorisms says:
What is the Oracle at Delphi?
The Tetractys, the very thing which is the Harmonia of the Sirens.
And the most solemn oath of the Pythagoreans is:
Nay! By him that gave our family the Tectractys,
which holds the Fount and Root of everflowing Nature.

Ou ma ton hameterai geneai paradonta Tetraktun.
Pagan aenaou Phuseôs Rhizôma t' ekhousan.

(For additional information, see Back Design in Introduction and the More about the Tetractys.)

Although Williams (168-9) describes a Tetractys spread, ours is somewhat different. In our Tetractys spread the cards are laid out in the alchemical arrangement given in a 1766 Nuremburg manuscript, and reflect the numerical structure of the Tetractys as given by Plato (Timaeus), Theon, Proclus and other Pythagorean sources.

[tetractys image]
(click for more on Tetractys)

Each plane (row) is laid out from left to right. First are the Four Elements, then centered above them the Three Principles, then the Two Seeds, and finally the One Fruit. In general terms, the left side of the Tetractys (loci, or positions, 1, 5, 8, 10) constitutes the Transpersonal Axis, and represents aspects of the situation that are larger than the individual. This axis is the path of evolution, by which the World Soul proceeds from itself. The right side (loci 4, 7, 9, 10) is the Personal Axis, representing aspects that are individual in nature. This axis is the path of involution whereby the World-Soul returns to itself. Thus the two axes begin and end at the apex (locus 10), representing the World Soul, where they are coincident. The intermediate loci (2, 3, 6) represent aspects that mix the personal and transpersonal natures. (Mead 162-8)

In the following description the loci are numbered in the order they are laid out, not according to their Pythagorean values (for which, see More about the Tetractys); the names are given in Latin and Greek as well as English.

Four Elements

The Four Elements refer to the mundane world and the different ways the ego experiences it; Pythagorean doctrine calls this plane Mundane (evolution) and Physical (involution). The elements also correspond to the four functions of consciousness identified by Jung (sensation, feeling, thinking, intuition). The remarks made about the four suits of the Minor Arcana also apply here. In this spread the elements are arranged from most to least dense, representing a gradation from more collective to more individual experiences.

1. Earth (Terra, Gaia)

The Earth locus refers to aspects of the question that are material or relate to nature and the body; it relates to the function of consciousness that Jung calls Sensation. In particular, this locus comments on aspects relating to physical existence (food, shelter, physical comfort, etc.). Earth is dry and cold: dryness (the power of rigidity) refers to the inviolability of these material aspects; coldness (the uniting power) refer to their shared character, for in them we are all alike, even with the beasts.

2. Water (Aqua, Hudôr)

The Water locus refers to emotions and relationships; it corresponds to the Feeling function. In particular, this locus represents our emotional entanglements with the world, especially with people (love, hate, friendship, fear, dependency, etc.). Water is cold and wet: coldness (the uniting power) refers to relationships; wetness (the adaptive power) refer to the flexibility and fluidity of emotional reactions.

3. Air (Aer, Aêr)

The Air locus refers to ideas and reason; it is the Thinking function in Jung's taxonomy. In particular, it refers to our creative, intellectual activities. Air is wet and hot: wetness (the fluid power) refers to the fluidity and adaptability of thought; hotness (the discriminative power) refers to our ability to draw distinctions and make innovations.

4. Fire (Ignis, Pur)

The Fire locus refers to ideals, inspiration and spiritual matters; it corresponds to the function that Jung calls Intuition. In particular, this locus refers to our deepest aspirations, commitments, intuitions and motivations. Fire is hot and dry: hotness (the power of separation) refers to the discriminative force of ideals and intuitive inspiration; dryness (the inflexible power) refers to the imperative force of aspiration and intuition.

Three Principles

The Three Principles refer to our experience of time and change; Pythagorean doctrine calls this plane Planetary (evolution) and Psychic (involution). (Note, my assignment of these loci to the astrological crosses, which is based on Hamaker-Zondag, 56-67, differs from Williams, 168-9.)

5. Salt (Sal, Hals)

The Salt locus represents the fixed past, for it cannot be changed, and memory, which is the psychic correspondent of the past. (Thus, salt is bitter, but a source of wisdom, see 17.Moon.) In particular, this locus represents the foundation of the situation addressed by the question. It thus corresponds to the Fixed cross in astrology (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius), which represents an inward orientation of psychic energy and a tendency to adapt to the inner world.

The Salt locus is closely related to the Earth and Water loci, which are below it, since our psychic past comprises the (immutable) objective past and our (mutable) emotional appraisal of it. (And thus their mixture can produce either bitter, poisonous brine or the elixir of the wise.)

6. Quicksilver (Argentum vivum, Hudrarguros)

The Quicksilver locus represents the mutable present, which is in flux, and the present moment, which is its psychic correspondent. In particular, this locus represents the role of the present moment in the situation, especially focusing on its ability to change, the crux of the problem. Thus Quicksilver (present) mediates between Salt (past) and Sulphur (future); it creates psychic life by mediating between the concrete, dead past and the ephemeral, living future. It corresponds to the Mutable cross of astrology (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces), and thus to our ability to change between inner and outer the orientations of the psyche and between adaptation to the inner and outer worlds. Overall, its position in the center of the Tetractys represents our control over the situation.

The Quicksilver locus is closely related to the Water and Air loci, which are below it, since our present choice is based on emotional appraisal (Water) and rational analysis (Air) of the situation. The fluid present thus involves both synthesis (cool Water) and analysis (warm Air).

7. Sulphur (Sulfur, Theion)

The Sulphur locus refers to the volatile future and to our intention, which is the psychic correspondent of the future. In particular, this locus refers to future aspects of the situation: endings, changes, goals and intentions - the fiery spirit that the Quicksilver must reconcile with the unchangeable, perhaps bitter, past (Salt). It corresponds to the Cardinal cross in astrology (Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn), and thus to an outward orientation of psychic energy and to a tendency to adapt to the outer world.

The Sulphur locus is closely related to the Air and Fire, which are below it, since the future is born out of our thought (Air) and inspiration (Fire). Both elements are warm, which represents the inevitable discrimination between the path taken and all the rest.

Two Seeds

The Two Seeds refer specifically to the unconscious and conscious parts of the psyche, but generally to all dark-light oppositions; Pythagorean doctrine calls this plane Ethereal (evolution) and Spiritual (involution). Williams (168-9) calls these loci Tenebrae (Darkness) and Lux (Light), and assigns them to Yin and Yang, which is consistent with the Pythagorean interpretation that follows.

8. Moon (Luna, Selene)

The Moon locus refers to the unconscious psyche, and to all the dark, invisible aspects of the situation. In particular, it represents aspects of the problem that are obscure, hidden, indistinct or archetypal. These are the unseen forces of which it's most important to become cognizant. They are often inertial in their action, and reflect the flow (or Tao) of the universe. The Moon locus is closely related to the Salt and Quicksilver loci below it, since the unconscious comprises both the past (individual and collective) and the present state of the psyche.

9. Sun (Sol, Helios)

The Sun locus refers to the conscious psyche, and to all the clear, visible aspects of the situation. In particular, it represents what is manifest, unhidden, distinct and in conscious awareness. These forces tend to be impulsive (non-inertial, against the flow) and reflect the actions of the individual. The Sun locus is closely related to the Quicksilver and Sulphur loci below it, since the conscious psyche is especially devoted to present awareness (Quicksilver) and future plans (Sulphur).

One Fruit

The One Fruit refers to the Unus Mundus (One World) or the Self, the integrated psyche; Pythagorean doctrine assigns this plane to the World Soul (Anima Mundi).

10. Stone (Lapis, Lithos)

The totality of the universe comprises the hidden transpersonal world and the transparent world of personal consciousness, which are in fact two sides of the Unus Mundus. Thus it unites the Moon and Sun, which occupy the loci below it. Further, a synchronistic event (meaningful coincidence) is a coincidence of these opposites (Coincidentia Oppositorum), that is, a unitary event manifesting simultaneously in the two worlds (the material world and the meaningful world). Divination operates by attempting to create a synchronistic event, thereby revealing in consciousness the hidden motion of the Tao (Unus Mundus). (von Franz, ch. 11) (For more on this, refer back to "Divination" in the Introduction.)

In simple terms, this locus represents the resolution or outcome of the situation. More precisely, it represents the Kairos (Critical Moment) at the pivot of the cosmological structure represented by the cards occupying the loci of the Tetractys.

Return to Pythagorean Tarot homepage

Send comments about this page
Last updated: Sun Mar 14, 2004